Monday 30 April 2007

Fairy Tales

We have travelled west out of weekend London to Hughenden Manor and are sitting in a gently undulating orchard on a picnic-covered rug. The trees cast their shade in irregular inkblots. The sky is aquamarine and cloudless. A far-off jet engine echoes faintly. Our daughter is dressed in a pink gauze skirt and satin-effect pink top and looks a Midsummer Night’s Dream. She runs giggling through a clump of dead daffodils, fists pumping. “Oh it’s a woodland fairy!” says a lady in a kindly tone. Unseen birds toot and trill.

The orchard is planted in perfectly straight lines, which aren't obvious unless you are sitting next to one of them. Then you can see the rank stretching away. Tags dangle from branches, revealing unexpected names like Laxton’s Fortune. Lane’s Prince Albert. George Cave. Families sit at intervals quietly appreciating being near to the earth. I lie down on my back and let the breeze play on my face and tweak at my hair. Suddenly I am between sleep and consciousness, half-remembering fragments of childhood and holidays as my daughter’s shouts ebb and flow in the air. All the while the birds sing.

After some time we decide to investigate the gardens and wearily raise ourselves up from the ground. We pass a group of majestic fir trees. One, its needles pointing downwards, looks like it is dripping wax onto the earth below. On the other side we are flanked by a line of Horse Chestnut trees which is occasionally broken, giving tantalising flashes of raking Chiltern hillsides and buttercup meadows.

We plunge into the coolness of the woods, where cowslips and bluebells quiver in the draught. Two daffodils are flowering in the damp chill under a holly tree. We come almost into the sunshine again and our daughter runs under the shade of a wide and ancient fir tree, its trunk skeins of plaited wood.

We cross a broken fence into the meadow and our daughter runs ahead singing stories and entreating us to follow. “Come with me on my train!” We follow until she tires and then all sit down on a fallen tree trunk. She stands on the slippery bark and starts telling another story. She slides and falls – not far – but continues on in her excitement, incorporating the tumble into her tale. I get up and haul her to her feet. She realizes that she has scraped her legs and her eyes fill with tears. I look into their brown depths and see my wife, my mother and my sister, as usual. And hurt and sadness she doesn’t yet know. I hoist her up onto my shoulders and we return up the hill towards Disraeli’s grand house.

Friday 27 April 2007

Time Decay

I've got a painful tooth today. ‘Sensitive’ I think they call it in the adverts. When I ran my tongue across it this morning it sent sharp, painful frissons along the surface. I'm getting to the tipping-point now, when illness and affliction become a daily constant rather than a periodical inconvenience. It’s a land inhabited by older people. When you ask the elderly how they are there is usually a list. And if you're not careful they'll go into detail. “Oh really?” I say, my mind deciding instead to freewheel down another avenue.

Personally I have become used not to talking about illness. Having lived with serious illness in someone close to me over the last few years it has frequently been the last thing I wanted to do. Sometimes though, I really did want to and couldn't. I suppose that's what separates the serious from the mundane. If you end up talking about it, its usually something minor. Have you noticed how nobody ever asks you how you are when it actually matters? The worse the illness the less likely people are to want to know. But when it comes to minor ailments like a sneeze, the world rushes to offer you their blessing.

My teeth, anyway. I suppose they are serving me right. I haven't always looked after them as well as I could. I haven’t visited the dentist often and when I have it has usually led to wrenching and uprooting and filling and injecting. My wife complains about my ‘gappy’ teeth. But actually the most obvious of those gaps - the one at the front - has gradually closed over the years. I still have a milk tooth too, which has done very well to keep going. I don't think it does much, crenellated between its younger siblings either side. But I appreciate it hanging around. It’s another symptom of my lack of oral conscientiousness and the result of a missed appointment when I was sixteen and didn’t care. It’s ok though, since I don’t smile much. Or perhaps that’s why I don’t smile much. In the future I'm expecting a lot more rebellion in various body parts, particularly from my teeth. But in the meantime I'll try to enjoy all my faculties, as my daughter does, unquestioningly. She didn't notice that illness surrounded her in her early years and continues to smile and a sing determinedly.

I'm looking particularly healthy at the moment in fact, due to a tan acquired in the normal course of life-not-in-an-office, something which I am pleased to report office-bound types find extremely galling.

Thursday 26 April 2007


I woke this morning full of worry. Was I late? I wondered as daylight rushed in at me, accompanied by the ching-clang-ching of scaffolding up the road. Where was my wife? What about school? As a revving circular saw around the corner and a rumbling rubbish truck joined the party I began to make out familiar shapes around the bedroom. Gradually I realised that it was in fact my morning off. One day a week my wife takes our daughter to school, leaving me to get up when I want, unless I have something better to do than sleep. It’s a glimpse of freedom; a rear view mirror into life before parenthood. For one morning I can leave the plastic crockery in the cupboard and pass over the pink-cup-with-cats-on-it in favour of the china cups.

The galling thing about childcare is how near to perfection it is. If you weren’t sitting at home watching Lazy Town you could be watching the Cricket World Cup, sipping on a beer. The bus taking you on the school run could instead be bringing you back from a long lunch with friends. And of course if you weren’t spending half your money on your children then you could be buying a lot of exciting stuff for yourself. And to cap it all, what did you do before all this freedom was lost? You spent your days in the confines of an office, surrounded by people you wouldn’t ordinarily have passed the time of day with in the kitchen at a party where you didn’t know anybody and you were reeling drunk.

As the result of a complex process of negotiation I arrived to pick up my daughter from nursery on foot today. It turned out to be a bad day to choose, since it was raining and I hadn’t brought an umbrella. Still, this was unlikely to be a disappointment to her, since it meant a chocolate lolly from Waitrose. As she emerged, laden with bags and coats I couldn’t help noticing a crumpled piece of paper in her swimming bag, nestled atop a damp towel. I unfolded it and discovered a picture of a pink sheep with blue legs. “Who’s this for?” I asked, expecting the worst. “It’s for … you daddy!” she said, beaming, before adding “I couldn’t do it with white. I very love you.” Not a victory for her in the short-term perhaps, but a perfectly judged long term strategy.

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Forbidden Pleasure

Most days my daughter has some small work of art in her hands at the school gate. A piece of A4 paper revealing a roughly coloured bunny or a ragged splat of paint. She taunts me with them. “Ooh, is that for me?” I ask hopefully. “No daddy. This one's for … mummy”, she replies, matter-of-factly. “Oh”, I say, downhearted. Then she produces another one from behind her back and says without a flicker “And this one’s for ….” I brighten momentarily, “…me.”

There’s never one for me. Yesterday she said she had one for me, but that it was still at school. It’s become a daily routine. I don’t know whether she sees it all as humorous or if it’s simply that by my ever-presence I don’t rate such gestures. It does make me a little sad though. I want to be given something just for me. As it is I have to steal other people’s pictures to fix on my pinboard. I probably made a mistake by showing my disappointment the first time it happened and she fastened onto it as a little battle she can win in a war in which I generally have the upper hand. In the difficult and confusing world children inhabit, these victories must mean a lot.

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Back to School

The grey morning after a sunny day is a mood not often expressed. It’s like waking up with a hangover, or suddenly recalled guilt. Momentum lost. A car braked. Nothing, where something was. The grey London pelmet can be a dispiriting sight and aptly signals the end of the school holidays.

So how did I do?

Helped arrange nice holiday in Cotswolds. A+
Trip to see grandparents. A
A couple of playdates. A-
Went to the park a lot. B+

“This was Stay at home dad’s first proper school holidays and he tried hard, with successes in several areas. Notably he displayed skill in arranging a very pleasant spring break. Some subjects do need to be addressed however: namely a tendency to permit too much television viewing. Promising overall.”

Well that’s just my take, of course. And I realized it was time for my daughter to start school again when I found myself having a stand-up row with her in the street over the correct theme tune to new CBeebies show Mama Mirabelle. I said it was “Mama Mirabelle’s ho-ome mo-vies…” She said "Mama Mirab-e-elle’s home movies…” (I was right.)

Talking of television. Another week, another child survey. Dr Aric Sigman’s survey on TV watching was recycled after his meeting with MPs yesterday. While I don’t necessarily disagree with some of his conclusions – although no TV for under 3s is patently absurd - I do object to being told how to bring up my child by a man with his own website (never trust someone with their photo plastered all over their home page).

“I’ve got four children myself” I heard him declare proudly on the radio yesterday in response to a mother’s pleas. Hmm. According to his website he frequently travels to exotic locations halfway across the globe (why?) and on website City Speakers International is listed as a broadcaster, consultant psychologist, business speaker (charge band £4000-£7000) and after dinner speaker. Now it may be unfair of me to suggest, but apart from having a vested interest in being controversial, does he really have time for much childcare do you think? Trying to feed a baby while a toddler moans about being bored and wanting to watch CBeebies? Desperately attempting to finish a household chore or bit of work, with a child at a loose end? I would suspect not. Thanks doctor but I’ll see myself out.

Thursday 19 April 2007


Watching men in suits delivering their children at school is one of my favourite pastimes. At least they are making the effort, I suppose. “Come on” they hiss as they tug their child along the pavement, itching to get onto their Blackberry and thinking about their ten o’clock meetings. Don’t get me wrong, I remember those days, when I wore a suit and thought about different things. But allow me my moment.

How long will it be though? It's scary, this game of childcare chicken that I’m playing. I’m probably at the clenched-hands-on-the-steering-wheel stage, on a scale of hairs-raised-on–the-back-of-the-neck to needing-a-change-of-clothing. There I am, bolting along, surrounded by the aroma of burning savings, while childcare rattles towards me with fire leaping out of its expensive twin exhausts. Will I brake before childcare piles into me head on? Or will I jump out before impact? I really don’t know. It’s a funny thing, living on savings. That’s what they are for, after all. But it’s not human nature actually to want to use them.

Occasionally a friend gets made redundant and rediscovers his children; but then eventually gets another job. “I’ll miss the boys” said one the other day, shaking his head sadly as he contemplated returning to work after six months. It reminds me why I am doing what I am doing. It’s a privilege to be able to spend time with my daughter. I love her foibles and good humour, she appreciates my reliability and the change in my pocket for an ice cream. I don’t envy the men in suits anything, except of course their bank balances.

Wednesday 18 April 2007

Paid in Full

I’m always deeply suspicious of men who say “I like women.” Yes, I always think. I bet you do. “I just love being around them.” Men in the weekend supplements say it. Generally powerful, attractive men. What does it mean anyway, apart from the obvious? Is it code? I’m not sure.

Anyway, I am increasingly finding that I like women too. Well, mums, anyway. On the occasions when we meet up with other families I drift towards the mums and enjoy chatting to them. I want to listen and swap stories. I am like them, after all. They have often left something behind too – a career - or they feel unappreciated, or are teetering on the brink of a massive mental breakdown.

I’ve stopped calling myself a stay at home dad in male company now. “But what do you really do?” men will ask. “Oh, you know, a bit of childcare, writing.” (They don’t.) “He’s not doing anything!” they declare, looking around knowingly. Yes, they’ve found me out. The combination of childcare and part–time work amounts to really almost nothing.

What my life no longer contains are any outward signs of success. Childcare is a readjustment to the rulebook. Who is there to congratulate you on a job well done? Where is the end of year party? I’d actually welcome a performance review, but even that isn’t going to happen.

Today I had a strange sensation while reading Topsy and Tim Go on an Aeroplane to my daughter before lunch. I suddenly remembered business trips with fondness. I always hated them then, but there was the feeling, niggling. The glamour! The importance! I had a bit of standing then. But not any more. Now I am paid in sticky kisses and tired hugs. Noone even notices me.

Tuesday 17 April 2007

Dirty Old Town

The pigeon poo is still there. An irregular dried-on patch of white that seems to represent much about coming back to London. And perhaps even London itself. A semi-permanent reminder of the city’s immutable grime and thoughtless waste. Even the crusty drips stop short, never arriving at their target; stopped in time.

I’ve decided that I’ll clean it up when I re-paint the window frame, which has now almost entirely sloughed its coat of paint. This winter it had a fierce raking from the Southwesterly winds which I guess bring with them the stray seagulls I see outside from time to time, swaying drunkenly on TV aerials. Now, only a few flakes hang on, not enough to hide the spongey interior.

There’s no point endangering myself twice over I tell myself. I’ll get to it soon. I always seem to have a paintbrush or filler in my hands nowadays, trying to cure the latest problem before another piece of the house falls off. We’ve become inner city landed gentry: leaking, peeling and cracking, and without the cash necessary to repair it all properly. Perhaps I can charge for tours. Or let the roof fall in and call the National Trust.

While we were away, staff at the now-pristine pub next door forgot to lock the door to the store-shed which abuts us, and someone has moved in. Someone who isn’t choosy about where they sluice unmentionable matter which I can smell as I come downstairs. I thought I'd make use of having a vulnerable daughter in tow and touted her in the pub to illustrate the health risk. They promised to fix it, but I have no faith in London promises.

Monday 16 April 2007

Going Home

The day is shimmeringly hot. So hot that the birdsong is muted and time has become disconnected. The electric blue sky descends into hazy heat near the horizon. A jet scores the perfect blueness with twin vapour trails, which quickly blur and fade like a healing scar. The only things moving are something in the flowerbed and the shade creeping around the garden in slow motion. A frond trembles, then a rustle, then silence.

It’s afternoon and the lunch plates lie on the table outside in the stillness. We’re sitting on the grass in deckchairs. Our daughter is sitting in a paddling pool I found in the shed, covered in snail trails and earth, and hosed down. She’s splashing, and singing as usual. We’re all lost in the light and the heat.

An end of holiday air hangs heavy. I have the feeling that I’m going back to school, or I’ve finished a term. We’re going home to London tomorrow. My wife is starting back at work and with nursery still closed for another week I’m returning to a week with my daughter.

I mention something about our return to my wife.

“OH!” says my daughter.

She’s taken to saying this recently in a Brief Encounter sort of accent, to denote her permanent state of surprise.

“Are we going home tomorrow?” she asks, aghast.
“Yes, mummy’s going back to work.”
“But what will I do?”
“You’re still on holiday next week.”
“But what about mummy?”
“She’s going back to work.”

She is sitting up to her waist in warm water in a candy-striped pink swimming costume and pink lacy hat. She looks intently at something not there in the bottom of the pool and the corners of her mouth turn down.
“It’s ok, I’ll be on holiday too…” I say, to forestall tears.
“OH!” she says, without relish, still looking into the water.

Everywhere I look I see finality. Things will not be like this again. We will be older. Our daughter will be older. The season will be different. The light. The heat. Perhaps what I’m feeling is the end of normality. The return to being a stay at home dad.

Friday 13 April 2007

Power Cut

We had a power cut this morning. My daughter was watching a cartoon. I was blogging. My wife was in bed. I carried on blogging on battery power. My daughter was most concerned and went to tell my wife about the event. It sends you back thirty years, a power cut. Not to the days of labour unrest necessarily, but just Sundays when the shops didn’t open and there was nothing on television anyway and you had to play games with counters and dice.

I got to thinking, what if all this running out of oil baloney is a government ploy to stop teenagers playing on their Playstations? It would be a sensible move. Strategic power cuts; a few library forms distributed through the post. And a side benefit would be to rid the world of reality TV (don’t get me wrong, if it’s on I watch it) and TV chat shows featuring people from other TV shows … and Jordan. But what would I do of an evening without all this ‘entertainment?’ I wonder for a second and then realize I could re-read Cider with Rosie.

We enact the modern equivalent of singing around the piano for a while in the silence. I can hear the children next door. Ramblers crunching past on the road outside. Wood Pigeons whooping in the garden. My wife starts reading a book to our daughter.

Suddenly the television bursts back in a blaring of colour and voices and the modern world is arcing in on us with appliances whirring and lights flashing. The book gets put to one side. Even I am watching the cartoon in fascination. I remember I’ve left my copy of Cider with Rosie at home anyway.

Thursday 12 April 2007

Sahd in the North

It’s grim up North. The North Cotswolds, that is. We whizzed out of our Gloucestershire village and were bowling north along the winding backroads when we hit traffic at Stow on the Wold. Suddenly cars were stuck bonnet to boot like a line of hungry slugs, inching through the Slaughters and the Chippings. Arms were hanging out of car windows, the temperature rising. Outside there were people on their knees trimming their lawns with scissors, as they obviously do in Oxfordshire. At the first turning I took evasive action using my primitive satellite navigation system. (A map held in my left hand against the steering wheel. I know it’s dangerous but we were going at 5mph.) Eventually the cars thinned out and we arrived at Hidcote Manor.

My wife’s parents very kindly enrolled us in the National Trust last year when we were with them at their local NT attraction and my face fell at the prospect of shelling out £30 for us to walk around looking at flowers and eat cake. So we are bona fide members, although I haven’t got round to affixing the sticker to the screen yet. Like many other National Trust destinations Hidcote reeks of middle age. Its car park is full of Hondas and MGs, everyone is polite and noone runs around.

It was an enjoyable day. The gardens weren’t crowded. The weather was good. There was no feeling that we should be getting the most for our money, since we hadn’t paid any. We had lunch, enjoyed tea and cakes and bought a few plants.

On the way back our daughter sings “I like to be-ee in the ca-aar!” into the dusk. I don’t know why. From my seat in the front all I can usually hear is back seat arguments. But very soon the singing has stopped. I crane to look back in the rear view mirror. Both passengers are sitting with their heads lolling at the same angle, mouths slightly open; both dreaming of gardens and scones.

Wednesday 11 April 2007

Village Idiots

Well that’s the end of the Cider with Rosie idyll, then. This morning my wife went up to the village shop with our daughter to get the newspaper. (I stayed at home blogging, of course.) A few minutes later, she returned, red-faced, with a giggling daughter. What happened? I asked. Apparently, she (my wife) had pointed at the Chupa Chupp display on the counter and asked our daughter loudly which willy she would like. Laughter from both (male) shopkeeper and daughter, possibly for different reasons (I hope).

Mind you, while they were out I had a minor embarrassment of my own. I was blogging in front of a large window, which faces onto the street, with a three quarters-full bottle of wine beside me in order to describe it for Drunk Mummy. I turned round and found a group outside looking in, their eyes moving slowly from me to the bottle and back in true cartoon style.

Now we have been exposed as crazed nympho and desperate dipso we may be leaving sooner than we envisaged.

Tuesday 10 April 2007

Simple Pleasures

Another hot day. It’s early but the last vestiges of moisture are quickly vanishing under the sun’s floodlight. Jackdaws shriek. Wood pigeons flap by with beaks full of twigs.

Welcome to the jungle!” says my daughter, beaming. “I’m the zookeeper. There are lions by the rhubarb, do you want to see them?”

It transpires there are also leopards up the slide, zebras near the trampoline and lions prowling by the see-saw. I visit the animals in turn and have brief conversations with all of them. “Hello. Are you well? Do you enjoy living in this garden?” “No daddy, it’s a JUNGLE.” “Oh sorry, er … jungle.” I feel like Prince Charles. My daughter is jumping up and down with excitement and skipping from one toy to the next to introduce the garden’s denizens.

There is a reason for this menagerie. The previous day we visited the Cotswold Wildlife Park with my wife’s parents. Our hearts sank as we handed over an assortment of banknotes and saw the blanket of parked cars stretching across the horizon. We left ours several fields away from the attractions and went off to get some lunch. With the queue for the canteen too long to contemplate we opted for the snackbar and came away with a selection of children’s lunchboxes, and chips smeared with translucent ketchup. As we grimly tucked into the processed feast, perched at a picnic table and silently bemoaning our misfortune, my daughter suddenly bounced up and down and said “This is the best picnic EVER!”

By her bed she has collected a holiday assortment of favoured possessions. A snail shell, a piece of felt, a pendant on a pink ribbon, a rabbit sticker, a padlock. I love the care with which she has assembled them so thoughtfully. Just by being there they mean so much. Right by her dreaming head.

Monday 9 April 2007

Sunshine Dreams

Like everyone else, we are away on holiday. On Friday we rammed the car full of children’s toys, the remnants of the fridge and ourselves and set off west for the Cotswolds. Strangely not many others were on the roads and we zipped along the empty motorway, swept down the Chiltern escarpment and banked towards Oxford as the sun sent the thermometer ticking up by degrees. Eventually the motorway ran out and was replaced by single lane roads and a panorama of stone walls and farmland. The panorama slowly became dusty villages and the heat intensified.

It was getting to my wife and daughter, who started to argue.
“What can we do now?” asked our daughter.
“Read a book?”
“No, that’s boring.”
“No they’re not. Books aren’t boring.”
“Lets’ play flibbertigibit.”

Flibbertigibit is a variant on a number of car games they play. This one entails counting 3 lampposts before shouting “flibbertigibit” to win. It’s a slow game though, on country lanes. On motorways it’s most entertaining. “Flibgibiflibgibflib…” stutters our daughter as the lights flash past. Other games in the series include “Jibbly jobbly” and “Jooby jobby”. When it reaches a crescendo of excitement and the shouting starts I have to admonish them like Topsy & Tim’s father on the motorway in Car Games.

In the end though we arrive at our destination in the South Cotswolds and pile out into the garden, the ice in our glasses clanking and footballs being punted. Here the stone is not the ochre of the North Cotswolds but a lighter grey, mostly covered in healthy-looking lichen. There are apple trees sheltering the lawn at the foot of the garden. Dainty flowers emerge from the mossy grass. If you sit still and listen, the noises are those of a child’s farmyard toy, with cocks crowing somewhere nearby, chickens clucking next door and the occasional dog’s bark.

And all the time the sun burns more brightly. I lie on one arm and my daughter lies near me looking at the daisies, singing contentedly. It reminds me of when I was young too. Lying on the lawn in the summer stillness, the faint buzz of aeroplanes above, the dank smell of earth below. The happiness of nothing in particular happening. Of everything being that moment.

“Time to unpack!” comes my mother’s voice, cutting through the birdsong. Only it’s not my mother, it’s my wife’s voice and our daughter is up, stumbling towards the house, churning turf beneath her feet.

It’s been a while; I’d forgotten about life in sunshine.

Thursday 5 April 2007

April Fools

I didn’t have a busy day yesterday. My wife took our daughter off to see a friend and I had nothing to do. So I headed straight for the PC with a hot cross bun in my hand and stared through the poo-stained window. Since I had some time on my hands I thought I’d pay a few visits. I dropped in on Wife in the North, Rilly Super, Mutterings and Meanderings, Pig in the Kitchen, Drunk Mummy. It felt like an extended coffee morning or something, without actually having to stick in my unshaven face and scare people. There were a couple of other places I stumbled into and felt uncomfortable. Where it was like being a man at a hen night. But I will visit the others regularly, especially Drunk Mummy, who serves wine rather then coffee.

Later, I was reading the Evening Standard and the April Fool thing got to me again. Big Brother microphones on posts? Fulham manager’s car bugged by wife? New Generation Game with Brucie? Bob Geldof’s outfit? Surely they had all slipped through late. I had to sit down, suddenly my head was throbbing.

Then I saw it – “Too many hours in nursery ‘turns toddlers into yobs’” the headline yelled dumbly. The topic comes up frequently of course. This government funded study concluded that long hours in nursery (more than 35 per week) “had both positive and negative effects” on children. They were “more sociable”, but also “more antisocial”. Eh? Why on earth do they bother? Oh yes, to elicit feedback from the likes of Councillor Chris Cooke from Tamworth who emails in his advice that children need “whispered parental love and care” interspersed with “occasional play”. Oh yes, and I bet he’s done a whole heap of that. I think I’ll stick with Allyson from Wolverhampton and Debbie from Leicester who choose to send their children to nursery and pay the mortgage. I mean, really.

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Pigeon Poo

We’ve been very normal over the past few days. First we visited Windsor and met some friends for pizza and ice cream. It was nice, as far as the new UK weather system - which entails getting a suntan in the rain while getting your head blown off by a freak gust of wind - will allow. Then we went to Lewes, where we ate organic sandwiches and vegetables we’d never seen before in the sun/cold. Lewes is a lovely town, which reminds me of growing up. It has proper shops and nice green spaces and people who smile and speak to you in the street. It really felt like we were on holiday. We sat in our friend’s back garden with white wine and crisps, while our daughter responded to the countryside feel by playing vets.

On our return to London I found that a pigeon (I assume) has defecated on my window at the top of the house. It must have sat on the flashing with its nether regions (or wherever they do it from) over the edge and trickled it down gently. No mean feat. And a unique avian insult which I am aware of every time I look outside. I may even have to take my life in my hands and clean the window. If this is my last entry you will know what has happened.

Monday 2 April 2007

Happy Holidays

Is it just me or is there something insidiously disturbing about April Fool’s Day? I end up scanning the paper for something jokey, but suddenly everything looks bizarre and I can’t tell anymore. Yesterday I found something in the Observer about Blair taking up acting, which I assume was a joke. But it could well be true. And there might be others I missed. It’s like when I read Time’s Arrow , a book in which everything runs backwards, and after extended periods in its pages I was confused about what I was meant to be doing next, or before, or… It devalues the news for me. I can no longer take a war hero’s funeral seriously or a childkiller being sentenced to life, for fear of being caught out by some fake piece. And for the rest of the year I frequently have to remind myself that it’s not April 1st, or on April 1st that it’s after 12pm. Or am I missing the joke?

Anyway, the contractors turned up to fix the road over the weekend. It was a very impressive endeavour, which I watched with a knot of shopkeepers and passers-by. We all looked on intently with folded arms as huge bleeping lorries unloaded molten asphalt, which was then artfully laid in smooth black blankets by big men with complex mechanical machinery. Then came the rollers. Huge contraptions that rattled and ground and shook the street with an otherworldly bass roar. It was, I imagine, a foretaste of how the end of the world will start. After this climax, all that was audible was the sound of alarms chirruping the length of the neighbouring street. Now it is back to the comparative quiet of the thundering buses.

My daughter starts her spring holidays today. Was it my imagination, or did her teacher hand her over on Friday with visible relief? Other children have already been on holiday for a week. When I visited the park with her last week we were approached by a large group of women and children of varying ages. As they passed by, I overheard one of the mums say “Well, that’s the first week over – another two to go, though.” [Sigh.] “Absolutely”, they all agreed. It wasn’t surprising in itself, I suppose, it was just the contrast with what was, at a distance, a happy scene; and the way she said it: so resigned to the lack of pleasure. My wife is taking time off work to spend the holidays with our daughter and me. So we will be a normal family group for a while. That might take a bit of getting used to.

Sunday 1 April 2007

Stop Press

She was in a better mood. I picked her up from school in a flurry of spray and windscreen wipers and got her home for a regulation lunch of chicken goujons, pasta and veg. Halfway through the meal I leant down to say something to her about broccoli and she kissed me firmly on the nose.

“Daddy, I love you” she said. And as a grin crept across my features “I like your face … and I like your voice”.

The grin is still there.